Friday, December 25, 2009

Shèngdàn kuàilè--Merry Christmas!

May the peace and blessings brought by a tiny baby so long ago be with you on Christmas Day and throughout the new year.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Crush of Creches.

Lucy's post about the nativity fair they visited in Seville reminded me of how much I love nativities. Granted I don't go for the whole city theme the way they do in Spain (and I don't have a little pooper in mine--yet) but even people that don't practice a faith are drawn to them. Except my neighbor, who is apparently a seriously lapsed Catholic with residual something, because he told his wife NO WAY was he going to have a nativity in the house so now I want to buy one and put it up outside his door. Baby Jesus can hold a sign that says "Please let me in for Christmas." Maybe that goes over better in the idea than in the execution, though. He's Cam's bio. teacher--wouldn't want to mess with the grade on finals week!

Anyway. Nativities. My mother has a very sweet old one (that I hope I get someday, not that I'm vulturizing her stuff before she's gone or anything, but I just want everyone--Greg and Sharon--to know how I feel) where the baby Jesus could be taken out of the manger. We used to replace him with a jelly bean or a Weeble and make my mother so mad. I bought this one once upon a time at Fred Meyer--$9.99--because it kind of reminded me of her figures. Doesn't that wise man on the left look a little bemused? When Cameron was little he rolled them all off the stable roof and I guess I didn't glue all their heads back on straight. We don't have the stable here with us so I think they always look a little lost and lonely somehow.

When I look at this, the miracle of Christmas is that this Mary gave birth to that Jesus. Look at the size of Him. That head!

I love this tiny Nativity that I got years ago at the Bibelot Shop in St. Paul. For several years I kept it out year round as a reminder of Christmas because it’s so tiny…Mary and Joseph are less than an inch tall. Even though it's so small, it's one of the first things I notice whenever I come into the room. I love the star on the stable, too--it reminds me more of a sun, actually, so I suppose there's some metaphor for it looking like both a star and a sun, but I don't know. I just love this little family.

Last year when we were in Thailand we went to a famous celadon shop where I wanted to buy a dessert set--small bowls, plates, and a tea/coffee set. Not that I get fancy on that kind of stuff, but they are so beautiful and I just knew that my wretched--I mean lovely--kids would be breaking them in a second so I didn't dare buy a whole set of dishes because they're sort of expensive, so I thought a dessert set would be just the thing. After choosing a design and scouring the store to come up with 8 of everything, I ended up short a cup and a plate. That was when the salesgirl, who had oh-so-helpfully trailed me all over the store, told me that oh, sorry, yes, they don't have all of that particular pattern. LIKE SHE COULD NOT HAVE SAID THAT while I was spending an hour looking for everything. And of course, they are the biggest celadon retailer in that region, so no ma'am, sorry, no way to get any more. Maybe I could come back next week. Did I mention how much fun the rest of my family was not having at this point?

So while I was fuming, I spied this gem…and forgot all about dessert. They are so lovely. The firing process for celadon leaves a fine cracked pattern. No faces or detailing—just a peaceful shade of green and a calmness that I feel when I look at them. I almost didn’t take them out because the cat loves to deliberately bat things off shelves, but they are sitting where he doesn’t go and I think they’re heavy enough that he might give up before he did any damage. I have the rest of the figures, but this is so sweet.

This adorable trio is from Tanzania. They were made by a group of women in Moshi who had lost their husbands and were working to earn money to support their families. I bought it the first time I visited in 2002, when I had no idea how devastating losing a husband could be in that country. Their shop was behind the cemetery which I found so sad. I love this little family, too.

This was my birthday present this year and I couldn’t be happier. I adore this Nativity beyond words. It’s carved from camphor wood so the scent is heavenly. And it’s oh-so-Chinese—the trees, the faces, the eyes. A shop near us has (he says, and I guess he could be right) the only Christian woodcarver in China. I loved these last year at our spring fair and fell in love again when they opened a shop up the street.

I love the detailing—look at his face! I don’t know who he is, though…I have 3 wise men, all bearing gifts and wearing crowns. I have 2 angels, so I guess there’s an extra one for the big announcements. I have 2 shepherds--they have the same hats, although one brought a gift, which was something new. And then I have this guy…he definitely does not look like a shepherd. But he’s definitely not a wise man. So…I guess we’ll have to work out a special job for him. Maybe he's the inn-keeper? This shop also sells the greatest Noah’s ark sets where the ark is a dragon boat. My favorite one is a large dragon boat and the pairs of animals are from the Chinese zodiac. That one is definitely coming home with me, too. Some day.

Sadly, for some reason I never purchased a nativity when we lived in Tanzania. They had some very nice ones and I regret not having one now, because I can’t understand why I didn’t get one! However, having seen my beautiful Chinese set, I’m thinking of asking him to carve one. I have so many pictures and an idea of Masaai warriors standing one leg holding their spears for the shepherds, a gentle-eyed cow with huge horns and the hump on his back, a traditional boma for the stable, maybe with a kraal around it, an acacia tree providing shade, the wise men carrying calabashes, perhaps a lion that would lie down with the lamb…It sounds strange, but I think I could have one made with more African flavor than the ones I saw in Tanzania. I also have 2 adorable rustic Santas that would be fantastic rendered with Chinese faces. Hmmm....

I’m hoping the Chinese nativities (they have smaller ones) will be available in the spring when it’s closer to thinking about heading home for the summer. I would gladly take orders—or trade for a Spanish one (hint hint)! Until then….

…or as my kids often say….

I know. This is payback for the “jellybean in the manger” trick.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Christmas is Coming...

According to Wikipedia there are around 41 million Christians in China. That's a lot...of course, there are 21 million people in just Beijing. And Beijing is not the biggest city. And a city of 7 million people is not considered large here. Christmas is definitely present around this time...but it's largely for the foreigners. Wealthy Chinese, especially those who have lived in Western countries may do a bit more present giving, but even the Chinese that work at our school, surrounded by talk and decorations and plans, don't pay much attention to it. Two quotes in a local magazine:

"I know that Christmas is orginally from Christianity. Some people call it "the second Valentine's Day." Young people here seem to go crazy for it. Lovers buy each other gifts and go to Western restaurants for romantic dinners; some go to bars to drink and dance till the small hours. I guess when it comes to Christmas Day they can experience as many Western things as they want."

"I don't know what Christmas is." The only thing I know about is that it's a Western festival. During Christmas the city looks different; there's a feeling of freshness. But I don't take my kids to the city just to look at pictures of Santa Claus. We'll only make a special effort to go and look at decorations when it comes to the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year)."

Interesting. In my apparently self-centered way, I knew that enormous chunks of the world don't celebrate Christmas. It's just interesting to know that I'm surrounded by people who don't know what it is, both from a faith and a cultural perspective.

I did find a Christian carver who makes Chinese nativities, though. One's going to look great in our house she thinks, humming "happy birthday to me" softly around her husband.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Mad for Mad Men

My latest show of interest is "Mad Men" so if you've got any inside information about what's coming, keep it to yourselves. It takes place in the late 1950's-very early 1960s (there's a reference for some of the guys getting on the bandwagon for Richard Nixon) and centers around an NYC ad agency. In the opening episodes the admen are trying to salvage their Lucky Strike account now that the government and the medical profession is cracking down on cigarette advertising.

Don Draper is, I guess, the moral center (?) of the show. Amidst the womanizing, drinking, and working, he's the mystery man--no one really knows how he comes up with the great ideas or what he's like away from the office. We'll see--Mr. Moral Center has a mistress and is not averse to "accidentally" kissing a client. Oops. He does look mighty fine in that suit, though. Wowza.

The men don't stand out as much as the women...look at those dresses. I love them. Keeping your figure would definitely be important in working those dresses and those shoes. I know TV is a more stylized version of the real world, but the treatment of the women, and their attitudes toward each other, is fascinating. When the new girl shows up for her first day of work, she's told by several men to shorten the skirt, raise the heels, and tighten the sweater. She learns which men to avoid, which to "play with" and which are the ones that are marriable. One wife is having "nervous problems" at a time when psychiatry is seen as a fad, like last year's candy-pink oven. After running her car into a fire hydrant she worries that someone could be killed, or worse. Worse being their daughter having a scar on her face. Which would be OK for their son, but not their daughter. The neighborhood divorcee is not allowed to have any contact with the husbands--and what makes her even more ostracized is her strange habit of going for walks to clear her head. The children play house, their conversations peppered with phrases like, "I like sleeping on the couch" and "I don't like your tone." Every. single. person. has a cigarette in one hand and a cocktail in the other. At work, in the afternoon--all the time. Men work and chase secretaries. Woman keep a neat house and raise quiet well-mannered children and don't ask questions. No wonder these were the parents the completely freaked when their children discovered the late 60's as teenagers. It's hard to imagine, growing up when I did, what women endured and the roles they played, how dependent so many of them were on men. Any woman who steps out of line is ostracized. For all the talk about "catching a husband" at work, when the new girl tries to get birth control pills, she's given a lecture about not being married and being "that kind of girl." Everyone talks about "that kind of girl" so somehow you're supposed to kind of be "that kind of girl" but just enough to land a husband, but not so much that anyone finds out or notices.

I can't say much for the interior design, though. For all of the lovely garden party florals and twinsets the women wore, the knotty pine and plaid wallpaper screams cheap cabin decor. And given the status of the characters on the show, I don't think it's supposed to be cheap. I can see how it's a short hop to autumn gold and avocado green. Will Pottery Barn decor be this dated in 30 years?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Um...Can This be a Cultural Misunderstanding?

Photo from

This is a publicity still from Famous Cam's upcoming movie. After seeing this kid in person, I can attest to the strength and flexibility he'll be showing. He's not very big for his age, but he was very fit, as in the kind of fit that comes from a lot of time in the gym. It would take a lot of time and dedication to be able to do this!

This is a production T-shirt that Famous Cam received. It's obviously patterened after the photo, but something's been lost...or maybe the translation.

No, that can't be right. It can't be what I think it is...let's take a closer look, shall we?

Sweet fancy Moses, it is. not. anything...that looks like a hand. We've offered to pay him to wear the shirt to school and gauge public (or should I say pubic) opinion. hahahahahahahhaha.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Blessings Abound

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. ~Melody Beattie

I love this picture--I never had a Thanksgiving that looked like this, and I suspect that very few American Thanksgivings do look like that. I love the anticipation on the faces...the extended family, the best china, the joy. I am so thankful for home and health, family and friends, work and play. God is good and He has filled our lives with abundance.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Monday, November 23, 2009

22 Years.

What did you think the day you got married? Were you nervous? Did you wonder if you were doing the right thing? That you had chosen the right partner? Were you absolutely confident in your path? I was...and I wasn't. I remember thinking that I didn't seem old enough to be making this step. It was all so exciting to accept a ring and plan a wedding, but getting married? And then being married?

I went from being someone's daughter to someone's wife, from the home I grew up in to a home with my husband. I have never known a life of living on my own, of being completely independent. I married who I thought was my soulmate, someone who was meant for me because we were so much in love, so much alike, so much "together."

Twenty-two years, 3 kids, and 3 continents later...I know we are not alike. He is hard-working, I tend to the lazy. He sets goals and accomplishes them, I find myself often pleasantly surprised by how things turned out (or how they didn't). He does what needs to be done first, I go to bed when the going gets rough. He talks it out, I yell it out. He saves, I spend. He's a vault, I may be accused of gossiping. He sleeps with the windows open, I sleep in fleece on the equator.

And yet there is no one else for me. Not since the day I met him 32 years ago. I stood up and said "I do" and never wavered for one instant that he was not the man God intended for me to marry. I read somewhere that it's not about finding a person who create good times with, it's about finding a person that you want to face life with, whatever life may bring. I look back and see things I wish I had done differently, choices I wish I had made, but he's always been part of whatever road I would choose.

I've learned that love is not enough. It's not enough to love someone, or to have the very best intentions. It is determination, hard work, and discipline. It is vigilance and nurturing. It is carrying and being carried. And it's happiness. Relief. Bliss. Peace. Safety. Comfort. Joy. It is, in short, everything I need. Every step of the way has been made better because of who I'm walking with.

Happy anniversary.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Love Reading!

Oh, I'm back in the saddle again with reading. I LOVELOVELOVE my Kindle! Seriously in a whole lotta love with my Kindle. I wouldn't have bought one if I were in the States--a trusty library card, bookstores, Amazon...what a blessing it is to have access to books! Sinnce we left the States there has been a dearth of book in my life and I've felt it terribly. In Beijing we have lots of readers and a big school library so it was better, but Amazon shipping is a fright and book take up too much space in luggage that needs to be used for tampons, shoes, Parmesan cheese, sunscreen, and chipotle seasoning--you know, the basics. And what have I bothered to read with my new-found portal back into the world of reading? Certainly not the high-minded literature that Edith Wharton promotes over on Lucy's blog.

I unapologetically loved The DaVinci Code. It clunked along in spots and played fast and loose with history, but that's OK. Despite the constant reminders of the protagonist's good looks, I enjoyed the ride. Loved Angels and Demons, too--although it was even clunkier and the ending REEKED. Peee-ew. My favorite scene had them running as the time ticked away and Langdon realizes that they are running uphill underneath Rome on the original streets from the time of Peter. I got goosebumps.

So The Lost Symbol is, I think, the weakest of the 3. Masonic mysteries just don't have the pull of Catholics and Christ. And it yabbers on at the end, over, and over and OVER about the mysteries of life. But it's a fun ride through the history of Washington, DC and the areas of the monuments that are not public and the history that exists out of sight of the nation's capital.

After that, what could be better than a fresh twist on an old classic? I made the mistake of choosing Mr. and Mrs. Darcy this summer (run away from that one, folks) so this time I chose wisely by following the undead. It really is Pride and Prejudice with zombies. What passes for "accomplished" for a woman includes considerable skills in the deadly art of zombie killing. Both Elizabeth and Jane are especially noted for their prowess, while the other Bennett girls manage to do their share of damage when they're not being too silly. It matters, too--a simple ride to Netherfield is fraught with danger as the "unmentionable" crawl out of the woods and hijack passing carriages. Lady Catherine de Borgh goes head to head with Lizzie in a scene that includes ninjas, and I won't tell you who ends up as a zombie (but it was a wonderful set of scenes), although I felt much more satisfied with Mr. Wickham's fate in this version. I liked the study guide at the end, which invites readers to consider whether or not author add gratuitous violence simply to attract more readers and whether the Bennetts Chinese training was in any way inferior to Mr. Darch and Lady Catherine's Japanese-ninja expertise.

I did see that there was a Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters but that seems just ridiculous.

I did redeem myself with Loving Frank, based on the love affair of Frank Lloyd Wright and the building of Taliesin in Wisconsin. What a PAIN artists are. Seriously. At first I was annoyed that it was a tempermental (married) artist and a woman with a wonderful family who was just sure that tempermental artist was freeing her from the monotony of being average. I was angry at how she justified abandoning her children to find herself. As the story unfolded, Mameh becomes not only more independent from Wright, she begins to understand the price she's paid to be who she is now. The ending was sensationalistic, though, and I didn't care for that, but I did come to really like Mameh--her strength showed when she moved as an unmarried woman in with FL Wright into Taliesin in a small town and I think I would have liked to know her if I had lived in Spring Grove, Wisconsin.

Another very good book is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, also set in Wisconsin. It was an Oprah pick and also the author's first book. Which begs the question, if a guy can write a book like this, what the heck has he been doing all this time?! Definite Hamletian (or maybe it's Shakespearean) overtones. Edgar was born unable to speak. His family breeds dogs, Sawtelle dogs, a passion with Edgar's father and grandfather to create a new breed. Edgar signs to communicate and his situation, which has him watching and observing without communicating, gives him a rapport with the dogs he lives with. When Edgar's father dies suddenly (was it murder? Edgar thinks his uncle Claude might have done something) he receives a vision that troubles him, especially when his uncle moves in and takes over the father's role (see the Hamlet connections. After another tragic accident Edgar runs away with 3 of the dogs. His journey back to himself and his family is painful and there's no happy endings, but it's a beautiful story. I loved the chapters from the dog's point of view...they are so sensory, full of images and smells and memories that are so different from how the human characters see those events. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


You have your oenophiles (and, for the record, I spelled that correctly the first time without looking, so there).

You have your bibliophiles.

I'm a lalaphile. "Kulala" is Swahili for "sleep" and I've decided I lovelovelove sleep. Not because I'm so tired, or because I'm not exercising enough, or because I'm in some sort of psychological avoidance. I just love so many things about sleep.
(and no, I don't want to sleep like a baby...remember how they woke up all the time and pooed and peed?)

Part of it stems, I think, from the fact that I had serious postpartum depression after Cameron was born...the kind that takes down your marriage, makes you a stranger to everyone, including yourself, and means sleep is a vague memory. For over 18 months I didn't sleep more than 3 hours a night. Seriously. On a weekend I might pick up an extra hour or two by sleeping in, but basically Sunday through Thursday I worked full-time in an adolescent alternative school, and was a full-time mother and wife (although that was in name only, really--it mostly consisted of me laying on the couch watching the world go by and reallly not caring so much about it all). When a doctor finally said, "Carla, met your new friend Mr. Prozac" I slowly crept back to the land of the living. Sleep came back, too...a little.

Still, there would be stretches. Mark was not allowed broach any potentially troublesome or irritating topic of conversation after, say, 8:00 and absolutely NEVER wtihin the confines of the bedroom. A relatively harmless statement like "Do you remember if we paid the insurance bill?" would result in a sleepless night. Really, most conversations had to be rigorously censured. The thing was, was that a few nights of sleeplessness could be made up later tha week.

Africa was better. You could never sleep in, thanks to the cows and donkeys and dogs and chickens and people and horns, but it got dark at 6:00 and it was pretty darn quiet after 9:00. For the first time in my life, though, I woke up at some point once or twice a night--dogs or our security guard--but that was more vexing than serious. After the robbery, well, I really never slept in Tanzania a full night after that. From October through June, except for the 10 days I spent in the States, I didn't sleep more than 5-6 hours a night.

But now--wow. Because I'm working, I'm tired in a way that I wasn't as a a SAHM. Our compound is quiet. My bed is so so so comfortable--seriously, we've had this mattress for 15 years and I'm afraid to replace it because whatever comes next might not be the same. My room is warm, my comforters (yes, there are more than 1) are soft and heavy. I now have a Kindle so I can read in bed. *sigh* It's heaven. It's funny that I've never spent any time or money decorating my bedroom or creating a mood or a theme because after all, I spend 99% of the time in there asleep. It's so heavenly that I start thinking about going to bed around 8 every night. Sometimes I think how nice it would be to watch a movie in bed and I'm tempted to get a TV, but I resist. Beds are for those other things--reading and sleeping.

OK, I know they're also for sex. But this is about sleeping and it's best on my terms. And that means without negotiating covers or sighs over how long the light might be on, or bodily noises, or entreaties for some romantic interludes. Because--truth time here, folks--one of my favorite bedtimes happens when Mark is gone. When I can sleep smack in the middle of the bed, keep the light as long as I please, turn up the heat, and have the covers just the way I want them when I fall asleep and when I wake up.

So, yes. I'm proud to say I'm a lalaphile. Join me in celebrating the joy of sleep! Lalas, UNITE!

Shuì gehǎojiào! (sleep well!)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I Know Bloomington

I know Bloomington.

I see kids splashing, diving,and screaming at the pool.

Baseball fields zoom by while I'm riding in the car.

I hear the noise of cheering from the Metrodome.

I smell intense Einstein bagels warm from the ovens.

I taste newly roasted pumpkin seeds.

I feel the sun soaking into the baseball diamond

and the dirt warming up to a roasting 100 degrees.

I know Bloomington.
--by Noah

Monday, November 02, 2009

It's Like the Dishonest Butcher Said..."Happy Hollow-weenie!"

It was the SECOND Halloween, as Noah and Ava reminded me, having been deprived of Halloween for the 3 years we were in Tanzania. Ava got another dig in about how she was too young to remember practically anything about American Halloweens. There were pumpkins--Noah turned up his Yankee pride--and a snowman pumpkin (that was on Sunday--3 inches of snow, courtesy of our oh-so-helpful government weather manipulators). There was candy, both yummy (malted milk balls, Tootsie-pops, and Snickers) and "eh" (shrimp-flavored candy, rubbery miniature pizza slices, mystery nuggets). There were trick-or treaters (some that tried to shake us down Friday night, others that didn't quite understand "no. more. candy." at 10 pm on Saturday night. It really doesn't compare to a good ol' suburban Halloween romp, but it definitely gets the kids fired up and we have a great time. It's safe enough that kids like Noah can go with a pack of their friends. It's safe enough that Cameron and his buddies can wander and roam between compounds. It's scarey enough that Ava needs an escort. And it's hilarious to watch how militant some Americans (myself included) can be about how things are done. No costume? NO CANDY. You didn't say "trick or treat"? NO CANDY. You can't speak English? Here's a 30 second lesson: say TRICK. OR. TREAT. or NO CANDY. Accidentally leave your lights on but you're not home to give out candy? Well, obviously Hitler's relatives live there or something.

Cameron here went for irony. Or maybe sarcasm. He has not, and vows he will never, open any of the Twilight oeuvre. Nor will he lay eyes on any of the movies. But the only people on Earth not familiar with K-Stew's sour expressionless face would have to be in a coma. So I give you Bella and Edward. He really does sparkle in the light (thanks to some iridescent embossing powder I found in my art stash). And Cameron, in his tight jeans and t-shirt, really did pull off the girl look, although he did endure numerous comments about his lack of breastal magnitude. To which I replied, "welcome to that club."

No, there are no pictures of Noah. Poor middle child. He was Mr. Everything, which amounted to him wearing random articles of clothing on random parts of his body and running out of the house at breakneck speed. I also unfortunately missed getting his Micheal Jackson moves on tape while wearing his costume. Priceless.

A sweet pirate wench and a princess. Note the really loooooong hair on the princess. It reminds me of those Chrissy dolls, where you pushed their stomachs and yank their hair to make it long. The ponytail is the exact color of Ava's real hair and garnered a LOT of attention. As the temperature dropped she ended up with Noah's cloak, so she looked like an undercover princess, forced to steal away in the dead of night from her castle.

Bella the pirate and Gabby the fireman/fireperson are Ava's closest friends. Gabby is moving to Belgium next year and Bella is likely leaving, too. Their parents are good friends of ours and I hate them all. Ava has had a hard year adjusting to her good friend moving last year. When Gabs and Bells go...honestly, do people think only of themselves when making life and career decisions? Doesn't anyone think about ME? How their decisions might affect ME? What will happen to MY family when they go gallivanting off to new places and new friends? Sheesh.

And, last but not least...flashback to Flashdance and turned up collars. We did an 80's party Friday night at the local bar. You really can't tell from this picture how tight those jeans are or that he's wearing those dress ankle boots that zip up. We met up with our friends (Dynasty-esque shoulders pads, a hopeful for a Whitesnake video, and a Flock of Seagulls hair) and had a great time. Which is funny because neither of us really likes those kinds of parties, and definitely not at a bar, but when you throw in 2 teacher was worth the frosty blue eyshadow!
Hope your Halloween was safe, happy, and heavily spiked with sugar!

Friday, October 30, 2009

It's the Little Things...

Step 1. Open up the pumpkin and pull out the guts. The pumpkins here are much much drier than our US pumpkins. Their "meat" is tougher and thicker, so a big pumpkin yields far less "guts" and seeds.

Step 2. Put the guts in the fridge with a note asking Xiao ayi to clean off the seeds. This in no way resembles my ayi, who is very sweet and funny. I guess I should get an actual picture of her. I bet she'd run away if I asked her, though.

Step 3. Toss with oil (I used sesame) and sprinkle with salt and sesame seeds. Pop 'em in the oven and roast until lightly browned (or in our case, until they start to pop like popcorn).
I really loved coming home and having that bowl of nicely washed seeds sitting on the counter. I loved it so much I collected the guts from 2 different classrooms today and I'm bringing them home for ayi to work her cleaning magic on--DeLiSh!

Friday, October 16, 2009


Halloween is coming, you know. It was not a "thing" in Tanzania -- it's basically an American holiday, so the Europeans don't get into it, we had a lot of missionaries whose faith beliefs didn't include Halloween, and a general suspicion and distrust of anything related to witchdoctors meant that witches and ghosts would not be treated lightly-- but here it's kind of a big deal. Not on an American scale, and with a Chinese twist. Last year our goodies included shrimp-flavored candy, Hall's cough drops, and liquor-filled chocolate balls. At several houses Ava and her friend Bella had to go through the house to the kitchen to get their treats. After our candy ran out, we shut the door and pulled the shades, the accepted message (at least in MN) that we were closed for business -- here the kids just got their ayis to pound and pound and pound...and then pound some more on the door. We had to get the kids ready in the upstairs closet in the dark because the fact that we had a light on in the house was a clear signal to just knock til Judgement Day. And ask for more candy. I mean, if I'm holding a basket of candy it must all be for that one kid, right?

Maybe that's what prompted this missive in the mailboxes today.

For "Trick or Treat" those family would like to be "Knock on the Door" by other children on October 31st (usually on the day or evening). You are advised to prepare some sweets and candies for giving away. Those residents participate in thie TRICK OR TREAT activities will usually decorative their front door to identify themselves. The decoration can be a simple ghost mask on door or pumpkinand with ghostly items. Please pay attention about your dog when the children coming.

Good Lord, I HOPE they don't come knocking when I put out my decorations -- this weekend -- and they just better not come knocking too early. They may face "re-education".

Monday, October 12, 2009

I Miss My Mommy.

We had a great 2 weeks with my mom here in China. She really is amazing -- she walked miles and miles on this vacation because that's what you have to do to see anything here. She used squatties at her age on a repaired hip -- although the good Lord saw fit to place quite a few "sitties" along the way. She ate whatever we ordered. I miss her and I wish she could stay for weeks and weeks and weeks. Although she's probably ready to be rid of our noise and chaos for awhile.

Ava just came into my classroom and was very sad to remember that Grammy was not going to be there when she got home. My kids are not very affectionate to their extended family, probably because they just don't see them very often, but they do talk about their relatives, look forward to seeing them, and miss them when they're gone.

We're not very sentimental and not into sharing our feelings much. This picture seems to sum it up. She's got her legs stretched across the beds in the train comparment, but when I rotated the camera it looked she she might be hanging from the ceiling--and maybe her hands are tied. It's more obviously not in this pic, but in the camera I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants a little.

On a slightly more morbid note, though, I'm starting to worry what will happen between now and when I'll see her again. I have an old mother (sorry, Mom, but a spade's a spade). It's more of a realization that time is passing while I'm so far away than a wondering if she might die or something. And if time is passing...then I'm getting old which means my kids are growing up and...sigh.

Right now she's rolling her eyes andsaying, "Oh, good grief."


So I'm a bit behind the times, but I did actually see (and get a bit tired of all the reporting on) the Obama Nobel Prize. I was slightly encouraged that many people that I know to be strong Obama supporters (a couple bordering on rabid) were just as puzzled as non-supporters.

This is what the Nobel website had to say: In selecting him, the Norwegian Nobel Committee...appear to be endorsing Obama's appeal for greater multilateral cooperation aimed at tackling the thorniest global problems; conflict, nuclear weapons, climate change. They highlight his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy, and the new climate of dialogue and negotiation that Obama is promoting. Emphasis is also placed on renewed US commitment to international organizations, in particular the United Nations.

The section of Alfred Nobel's will detailing the creation of the Peace Prize states that it should be awarded "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." In answer to questions during the announcement press conference about how early in Obama's Presidency the award was being made...the Committee wanted to demonstrate its support for the approaches he is taking towards global problems.

Contrary to most American's popular beliefs, news from the US is not generally the top story world-wide...I don't hear a lot about things going on in the US via CNN and I admit to not being very diligent about reading online news. I did learn alot more about Obama's stance on disarmament by reading around as a result of the award. However, since the nominations window closed a mere 11 days after he took office it seems far too premature to award him anything. He ran for the prediency on a platform of hope. He believes in conflict resoluation and that those resolutions can be found in the values and commitments that are universal to all people. I applaud that sentiment heartily.

People who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, however, have often devoted decades, often their entire lives, to their cause (Jimmy Carter,2002, Mother Teresa, 1979). They are experts in their field (Norman Borlaug, 1970, Linus Pauling, 1962). They have risked their lives for what they believed in (Martin Luther King 1964, Nelson Mandela, 1993). They are ordinary citizens thrust suddenly into situations in which not acting becomes impossible (Betty Williams and Maired Corrigan, 1976). They have survived unspeakable horrors (Elie Wiesel, 1986). They have stunned the world, doing something that no one thought possible (Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, 1994).

I hope with all my might that he fulfills his promises. I pray that the work he is starting, both at home and abroad, continues in a direction that makes both our country and the world a better place. His election, I believe, changed our country and our world. He opened a door and stepped we across a threshold into new possibilities. We are not the same and I could say that confidently even if I was not an Obama supporter.

I just can't put President Obama in that category--yet--even with the power of the election. I think the Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded for achievements, not the possibility of achievements, for a life dedicated to a cause that fundamentally changes the nature of our world, not for an election and a few days of promise. Read the stories of past Nobel Peace Prize laureates (click on the person, then on the right side of the page on "presentation speech" to read a summary of the person's accomplishments) and you will be inspired and strengthened and renewed by the people who have given so much of themselves in so many ways for the betterment of our world and our future.


We had bad smoggy weather the days leading up to October 1, but National Day dawned warm and sunny and clear. Rumor has it the powers that be manipulated the weather to ensure perfect conditions for the big day.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. This is this morning's "weather". For the first time, it was hard to breathe. There was a definite odor and an acrid feel in my throat when I breathed in. I'm standing about 50 feet away from the parking guards in the second picture, and about 200 feet away from my car in the first shot. Not that you can see my car--it's that blank space to the right of the 2 white cars. Seriously.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Terra Cotta Warriors...21st Century

One of the more fun things we did was visit the factory where the terra cotta souvenirs are made--and sold, of course. The soldiers are made from clay in the area that can be used basically directly out of the ground. The sections are made with molds and fired in ovens, not kilns. Prices depend on the size (yes, you can get life-sized ones--only $2500 including shipping and insurance to the US, if you want one) and the detailing--some are hand carved, others just popped out of the mold. We almost lost Samantha the sea otter to a particularly fierce guard. Look at him--does he look like he's messing around?

Here's an interesting guy. He stood out like...well, a white guy in a crowd of Chinese. He was instantly recognizable as very different. When I asked the guide about it, he said that Kofi Annon (the former head of the UN) had visited the factory--which was true, they had pictures--and suggested they make some warriors that weren't Chinese. First of all, don't you think that's a funny comment to make? I mean, he's visiting a CHINESE site. CHINESE culture. CHINESE history. CHINESE in CHINA. Why on earth would they make non-Chinese replicas of Chinese artifacts? Although we did pass a shop that could photoshop your photo onto a photo of a warrior, which did make me think it might be cool if they could somehow figure out how to get a person's likeness on an actual statue.

And then--IF that was an actual conversation, why make a white guy? Wouldn't they have wanted to honor Kofi by making an African soldier? Or did they just figure that a Euro-looking one would sell more? And if so, then why only one? Very curious.